Archive for the ‘Chemistry’ Category

pingst och nationaldag

June 7, 2014

Today our basement is emptier than usual; the lights are off in most of the offices, even as I sheepishly tiptoe in at 10:30 AM. There are barely even a few bikes in the racks in the courtyard. Is it secret holiday, that I’d somehow forgotten? Is it Kristihimmelfärdsdag, which without a doubt, never fails to catch me off-guard? No no. That’s right, we don’t do kristihimmelfärdsdag. It’s certainly not the Fourth of July yet.

PINGST! Wait, what is Pingst again? Wikipedia knows. Aha, Pentecost. Well that sounds like it’s most certainly got to be on a Sunday. Could it be… Annandag Pingst?

Nationaldag! That’s right. That’s what it is. It’s the Swedish National Day. Still, that doesn’t explain why there appears to be half the normal number of people in the College of Chemistry this fine morning in the fine City of Berkeley. Ah Well.

I sit down at my desk and I have a word stuck in my head. It’s Pingst.

Pingst pingst pingst pingst pingst pingst pingst pingst pingst…. Pingst. There’s no one in the basement. 50 days from Passover, PINGST! How the days pass.

It’s going to be a great day. Happy Pingst, everyone.


V- Day

February 14, 2010

* contains bad puns, consider yourself warned *

Dear Chemists of the World,

I respectfully take issue with your choice of lettering.

Why, o why o why? Why would you EVER choose E to denote electric potential? E (apart from those swirly E’s used to denote emfs) is not potential. V is potential. V is potential. Is E the negative gradient of E? No, it is not. E is E, or electric field. The negative gradient of the potential (V) is E (electric field). Likewise, E is not potential energy either, as you so lovingly called it two chapters ago. that would be U.

In short: V=potential!

If the problem is that you’ve run out of letters, why don’t you give the Greek ones a shot? It’s not too bad, really. We do it all the time in Physics. At least give me some consistency here. I mean, how are we ever going to find a unifying theory of nature if we can’t even find a unifying theory of nomenclature? All I am sayin’… is give V a chance!

Also, Potential= V

Happy V-day every one. I hope your V-day is full of potentials. If it’s not… you’ll be hearing from me about it.



ps. Can you tell I’ve been studying all day and eating chocolate?


Eating my words

January 26, 2010

Dear Physics,

I never thought I’d say this, but, well, here goes: I miss you. Chemistry is just so messy. And not in the crazy-good sort of way. In the  unit conversion, stoichiometric, beräknade sort of way.  I mean, Chem will be good for me, something different for a little while. But just promise you’ll take me back next term, okej? I promise I’ll try harder too.

From Sweden with Love,


KemiA00: the socio-linguistic experiment

January 19, 2010

Kväve. Syre. Col. Fosfor. Selen. Väte. Brom. Volfram. And my favorite: Kviksilver.

As I like awake in bed at night, the litany of names in the Periodiska Sytemet marches through my brain. Crom. Vanadin. Järn. Zirkronium… and all of a sudden I realize I am in for the challenge of a lifetime.

I signed up for Chemistry in Swedish. Suddenly, my ability to communicate and understand the world around me was reduced to that of a one-year-old child, an adult gorilla, or a very, very smart Labrador retriever.

It has been exactly one week since I moved into Parentesen. However, to quote a blog by a former UC-Lund exchange student that has been helpful to me in figuring this whole thing out, “it feels like a month.” One week, one week, one week-and what can I say? I am doing alright, I am doing a lot, and I am realizing that Swedish isn’t as easy as it was back in Carl’s Svenska 1A. But I am stubborn, and despite all odds, all non-existent language barriers, and possibly all reason, I will learn this language. I don’t know why I am obsessed with this goal; everyone here speaks perfect, beautiful English. There happens to be an unfortunate rule that the UC Study Center only allows students to take Swedish courses through the Folkuniversitet (city college) rather than the University. And that costs $800. Which means that without a job here in Sweden, this is not really an option for me. Looks like I’m going to have to do this with my own blood and sweat and tears and awkward encounters. But mark my words, I tell you. Jag SKA lära mig svenska. Mark my words. Lyssna på vad jag säger.

That’s why I signed up for KEMIA00 ( man säger: ‘shem-ee aahhh nul-nul’). Making the decision was a sort of watershed moment for me. When I got here, none of my classes had been approved by the departments, so I spent a long time walking around LTH (Lunds teckniska högskola-you can guess what it means) in a daze, caught between Fysicum and Kemicentrum and Kårhuset, and a very bemusing statue of Tycho Brahe. Somehow, out of the grace of God or Science or both, I ended up in the office of the professor of KEMIA00. I need this class for my double-major in Geophysics, but I have been loath to take it at Berkeley because it is a lower-level course that is generally over-populated with pre-meds. So I thought: ‘Here is my chance to take Chem 1A. Here is my chance to learn Swedish’. Here goes nothing. “Hej, jag heter A….. (in Swedish I have a hard time pronouncing my own name)…jag är utbytestundent och jag läser fysik vid Berkeley i Californien. Och jag skulle vilja ta KEMIA00.”

Fast forward to this morning (and by morning I mean 12:15 pm). I sat in a class full of Swedish people. I listened to the teacher explain the syllabus, the lab schedule, and the exams in Swedish. I saw an Asian guy in the row in front of my and prayed he was an international student. He wasn’t. I spent 110 Kronor on a Lab reader. I learned about lab safety. I didn’t understand everything. That’s probably not a good thing.

But you know what: I had the time of my life.

I have been thinking a lot about this all day today (there is a lot of thinking to be done in Sweden). Being in a class where the language of instruction is not my native language is something I have never had to encounter in my academic lifetime. As some of you know, I have a strong interest in bi-lingual education. Coming from California, I have been in classes with many people whose native language is not the language of instruction-but never have I stood in their shoes. The past few years I have actually thought a lot about the way language is taught to English learners in American schools—should Spanish and English be taught simultaneously? When should English learners be integrated into classes with native speakers (or should they ever be separated?)? Why is our school system so, so, so inefficient at teaching foreign languages to native English speakers? And, how many truly brilliant kids with non-English backgrounds simply slip through the cracks?

Today, as I sat alone in lecture hall full of 150 people, struggling to understand the language (let alone the material that was actually being conveyed), I finally found myself in the position that so many children in California find themselves in every day. And it dawned on me that, perhaps, a lot of the people who designed our monster of an educational system haven’t been there.

Like I said before, this will probably be one of the hardest things I’ve done in my life. Yup, right up there with the Berkeley home road race and Quantum Mechanics ($#@!). But for me at least, the things that are the most challenging are also the most rewarding. Throughout this ordeal, I hope to learn a lot. And not just about Väte or kväve or Col or even Kviksilver, but about, well, everything.


More on what I am doing in the tangible world to come later—when I am in a far less abstract mood.

Which is somewhat ironic, because “mood” is an abstraction.

I think I’ll go to sleep now.